Cancer Council Victoria launches hep B action plan to stem fastest growing cancer on World Hepatitis Day

Monday 28 July, 2014

Cancer Council Victoria today called on all Victorian political parties to commit to taking action to address the increasing incidence of liver cancer, which is amongst the fastest growing cancers in Victoria. Survival from liver cancer remains amongst the poorest, with just 14% of Victorians surviving five years after a diagnosis.

According to Chris Enright, Manager of Priority Populations at Cancer Council Victoria, the leading cause of liver cancer is chronic hepatitis B infection, a vaccine preventable, treatable infection.

"Recently, the Federal Government launched its second National Hepatitis B Strategy to address this serious health issue."

"Now we need the Victorian Government to invest in the three priority action areas to reduce the rate of liver cancer attributable to hepatitis B infection. The commitment the government has shown so far is a step in the right direction but we urgently need support to increase health literacy, build capacity in primary care and strengthen the evidence base to guide our work in the sector."

"Health literacy is particularly vital to improving the understanding of the importance of hepatitis B vaccination and treatment for those most at risk is an important step in preventing liver cancer."

According to Ms Enright, the link between hepatitis B infection and potential subsequent liver cancer is widely unknown within affected communities. Primary health care clinicians are a vital means of raising patient awareness.

"Building capacity within the primary health sector to increase clinical knowledge and enable more patients to be appropriately managed by their GP can ensure timely diagnosis and appropriate treatment of chronic hepatitis B infections. This has the potential to significantly reduce the number of people diagnosed with liver cancer and will also have a flow on affect, reducing waiting times for liver clinics." 

"The last priority action area is funding for research into both the clinical and social impacts of hepatitis B related liver cancer, as this can be effectively applied to support the development of evidence-based policy. As with the other priority action areas, this will require long term, ongoing commitment from government."

Hepatitis and liver cancer: a summary

  • Deaths from liver cancer are set to double over next decade
  • Liver cancer has jumped three spots in three years to become Australia's ninth most fatal cancer – around 1,400 Australians die from liver cancer each year
  • There are an estimated 218,000 people living in Australia with chronic hepatitis B
  • Almost half of people with hepatitis B aren't aware they have it
  • Only 20% of those with hepatitis B who require treatment currently receive it
  • Only 10% of liver cancer cases are linked to heavy alcohol use
  • Liver cancer is one of the most deadly: 85–90% don't survive beyond five years after diagnosis